AusRAIL: Synthetic sleepers going strong 39 years on

Synthetic sleeper manufacturer, Sekisui Chemical Co., Ltd. has brought a sleeper recently extracted from service after 30 years to AusRAIL to show visitors how well the company’s polymer technology has held up.


As rail networks have grown in Australia and New Zealand, the sector has become more focused on not only the capital cost, but also the ongoing cost of maintaining its fixed assets.

This is the trend targeted by Sekisui with its Fiber reinforced Foamed Urethane (FFU) sleeper. The company’s marketing manager for Asia Pacific and the Americas Masaki Hayashi says the sleepers are workable like wood, but last signifi cantly longer.

“The difference between timber and FFU is that FFU has longevity,” Hayashi said. “FFU doesn’t rot like timber, and it
comes with uniform quality. When you work with timber, it’s very diffi cult to obtain uniform quality over a large batch.”

A follow-up survey of FFU synthetic sleepers after 30 years in service, conducted in 2011 by Railway Technical Research Institute (Japan), suggested the expected life of an FFU sleeper is around 50 years.

Sekisui is showing off one example of an FFU sleeper with 30 years of service logged at AusRAIL PLUS. Next year the company plans to pluck another from the field, for testing after 40 years of service.

“While timber might last that long under specific circumstances, it will depend a lot on the environment and the usage,” Hayashi said.

The primary benefit of this longevity is the elimination of costs associated with reinstalling timber sleepers over the long term.

“Installation costs including labour, track equipment and safety measures costs are generally higher than material costs, so with a lifecycle cost of 50 years without replacement, FFU works out much better than natural timber in many applications,” Hayashi explains. “A natural not protected timber sleeper in some environments may have to be replaced up to seven times during the lifetime of a FFU sleeper.”

The core design feature of an FFU sleeper is its collection of continuous glass fi bres which run from one end to another. These fi bres reinforce the thermosetting resin foam comprised of rigid urethane resin, which is poured over the glass fibres and then sets during the manufacturing process.

The benefit of using FFU is to enjoy both the features of natural wooden sleepers and those of plastics. The FFU sleepers are a similar weight to natural lumber. Bending strength is stronger than natural lumber, and maintains this strength for a long period FFU manufacturing process means sleepers can be fabricated to a specific height, width, and length.


Visit Sekisui at AusRAIL PLUS at Delkor Rail’s stand, Stand 190.



AusRAIL: New display systems designed for versatility, scalability

Australian technology company, tm stagetec systems, is debuting its new range of passenger information display technology at AusRAIL PLUS 2019.


As patronage increases steadily on rail networks across the region, passenger information systems are more important than ever for efficiency and safety.

Beyond their most common purpose – providing service information – digital displays and public address (PA) systems are being used more often on the concourse and the platform for safety, to manage the flow of commuters, and to provide additional revenue through dynamic advertising.

tm stagetec systems (TMS) general manager, Mark Lownds, tells Rail Express the increasingly varied use of digital displays and PA systems in stations has driven a focus on improved integration and scalability of these systems for TMS’s customers.

“Service information, wayfinding, advertising capabilities – our passenger information displays and digital PA system has all of that integrated by default,” Lownds explained.

Lownds says TMS’s new Smart pi Eye range, making its debut at AusRAIL PLUS, provides a single, scalable and integrated platform for all uses of digital displays in the rail environment.

“These days every system needs to be integrated with every other system, and if you need to make a change, you want to be able to do it all in one place across all the systems,” he explained.

“That’s why our Smart pi Eye series of products is designed to be able to encompass everything from the passenger information display side of things – one digital signage platform for advertising, passenger information, maps, and so on.”

Facilitating this multi-use platform is a web-based content management system (CMS), which provides all global administration controls for both digital displays and PA systems across an operation. Under Smart pi Eye, multiple sizes and types of displays can be managed through the use of templates, which configure to suit size and purpose. This allows CMS administrators to select the display type which can then automatically render the information in the correct format.

Lownds says the web-based approach works across all platforms and updates more easily. “We’ve moved away from having an application installed on the user’s device,” he explained. “When you need to run an update – especially on large operations – you’re not relying on hundreds or thousands of devices to have their application updated. With a web-based platform, once the central server or servers are updated, everything is up to date.”

The use of node servers means for a smaller system, CMS and node functionality can be shared by a single server, or a pair of servers, but then the system can be expanded for larger situations.

This idea of scalability has always been a focus for tm stagetec. “Our philosophy is that everything we provide has to be modular, so you can use the whole solution for all of your needs, or just certain parts of it for what you’d like to,” Lownds said.

TMS’s AusRAIL stand showcases a revised range of the company’s digital PA Network Amplifier Modules (NAMs) for both indoor and outdoor applications. The new modules are capable of extra signal processing and can play out from themselves, and the range has been expanded with a high power version, making it possible to use as a hearing loop amplifier.

“We conduct a lot of testing – particularly in harsh Australian environments – with the aim of making the individual pieces of hardware as reliable and maintenance-free as possible. We use passive cooling and heatsinking rather than fans, for example, in our outdoor devices.”

Lownds and other TMS experts are on hand at AusRAIL PLUS to discuss the company’s experience with digital PA systems, tailored to the transport and infrastructure industries.


Visit tm stagetec systems at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 46.

AusRAIL: Maximising the benefits of rail’s spending boom

A dependable pipeline demanding true local manufacturing would ensure local businesses are able to capitalise fully on substantial rail spending across Australia and New Zealand.


Infastech Engineered Fastening managing director, Glenn Heffernan, has seen his fair share of market shifts. From the mining boom, just beginning when he joined as the company’s financial controller in 2003, to the shrinking and reshaping of manufacturing which influenced his acquisition of the business through a management buyout in 2017, Heffernan has substantial experience navigating peaks and troughs in his company’s target markets.

Heffernan, now managing director of the business, sees the growth already underway in the rail sector and believes his business is poised to take advantage.

But he says the unpredictable nature of spending from federal, state and territory governments in Australia and New Zealand can create challenges for businesses like Infastech and its customers.

“The trend over the last few years has been growth, but it’s been spasmodic,” Heffernan told Rail Express. “Governments have made a lot of announcements over the last five years with varying levels of certainty, but it doesn’t seem there’s a long forecast of projects in the pipeline, and when they do happen, they come across very quickly.”

Heffernan is not the first to raise this issue. The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has repeatedly called on governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible. The ARA recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission as part of this.

Despite this push from industry, the politicised nature of spending on major infrastructure projects means companies are operating with a significant level of uncertainty across the region. Even the largest, most financially stable international rollingstock manufacturers have identified the sporadic nature of spending as a limiting factor in their commitment to the local market.

Heffernan is seeing this trend not from the perspective of a tier one manufacturer or engineering firm, but from deep within the rail supply chain.

The companies Infastech serves with fastening tools, equipment, parts and maintenance are often contractors or suppliers of the tier one companies delivering rollingstock or rail infrastructure projects under major government contracts. And he says the lack of proper commitment to long-term planning makes it difficult for everyone to deliver.

“The ideal would be to have a long pipeline of specific projects, and detailed requirements of those projects. But at the moment it seems to be a short pipeline, and very little notice between when a project is identified or announced, and when it goes ahead,” he said.

“This means we’re holding stock to support these programs when they are announced, without any security of demand. That insecurity flows down the whole line, because it makes it difficult for our customers to speak to their customers, and their customers are some of the biggest companies in Australia – or in the world – and it’s very difficult to communicate some of these things. What might seem to be a minor issue to them could turn into a major issue if you can’t get the stock in time.”

Infastech works hard to accurately estimate the needs of the market for each of its products, anticipating a 12 to 24 month outlook, and keep stock on hand accordingly. “We try to work with our customers the best we can to judge their future needs,” Heffernan said, “but more often than not their reply to us is, ‘We can’t give you a forecast because we’re at the mercy of our customers.’”

Given most of the parts come from the US or other overseas markets, filling empty stock in a short window can be a complex and costly process.

“At times a supplier or customer buying parts from overseas may need to pay break in charges or expediting charges to get them on time. That means they could be buying the part at an exorbitant cost if they’re going to meet the requirements of their project. And even if you pay break in charges, it varies from supplier to supplier; you might be able to bring an order forward but it still might not be enough to satisfy the customer’s requirements, which becomes very messy.”

Matt Thomas, Infastech’s business development manager responsible for Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand, says the company has been impacted several times by sudden surges in project spending.

“Because of the lumpy nature of these projects, we may be holding what we think is 12 months’ stock, but that can all be consumed in one order with rail customers,” Thomas said. “We’ve had several examples where that’s happened. We’ve been sitting pretty and then we’ve had two or three orders in quick succession which have cleared us out in a matter of weeks, and then we’re left with a six-month lead time. It’s very difficult to manage.”

“Murphy’s law,” Heffernan added. “You go from a slow-moving stock scenario, to being out of stock in as little as one order. Then you have to reach out to overseas suppliers, but Australia is still small in terms of the world economy, and our suppliers are delivering stock for big projects overseas, all around the world.”

Local content – the smaller the better

Despite their desire for a more reliable pipeline for infrastructure, both Heffernan and Thomas are immensely positive about new and ongoing government commitments to rail infrastructure spending. The commitment in states like Victoria and Western Australia for local manufacturing of rollingstock is of particular note – but both agree governments should prescribe as fine a level as possible when it comes to local content guidelines.

“Once these projects are announced you see more confidence in the market; confidence in Australian manufacturing and capabilities, and that really does make everything more buoyant, when companies like mine think the government is supporting them,” Heffernan said.

“The reality is, though, a lot of components for these projects are manufactured overseas and brought into Australia for assembly. For a supplier which supplies specific tools and parts, local ‘assembly’ can eliminate most of the actual manufacturing.”

Thomas, who has experience in the defence sector, believes governments could look to contracts in that space as a potential model to further enhance the level of local content in rollingstock procurement.

“In defence contracts, Australian content is commonly specified right down to the steel source where that manufacturing capability exists within Australia” Thomas said. “More often for rollingstock, Australian content specification allows for rollingstock to be Australianassembled, but the components are coming in pre-made from overseas even when those components can be manufactured locally. If we’re able to instead take an all-encompassing approach, that would be better. Where that really helps us is in supplying the tier two customers, who are supplying the tier one manufacturers; the large-scale engineering shops and so on. They’re the ones that largely miss out
with the current setup.”

Reliability and certainty a focus

While it continues to navigate an unpredictable market, Heffernan says Infastech is doing its part to remove uncertainty and unnecessary delays as much as possible for its customers.

“We hold spare parts for pneumatic and battery tools at our head office in Melbourne, and we have a repair house here,” he explained. “We also have a loan tool service, to ensure our customers production is not interrupted while their tools are being repaired.

“On a larger scale we have a partnership with Enerpac, the rig that runs our tools for most of the installation of rail-related fasteners. Enerpac has an Australia-wide repair network, with sites in all major cities. That’s a very high-quality product, and the network of service centres further enhances that reliability.”

Heffernan believes this approach to reliability is a must for a sector like rail.

“The industry is very risk-averse regarding tools. It’s such a mature industry. For us that’s good and bad: ongoing clients are getting a good product and are happy, but it can be hard to win new business, because once a contractor has its supplier it can often be hesitant to change.”

One source of work Heffernan hopes to continue to tap is the region’s growing rail infrastructure and rollingstock maintenance task.

“You won’t send a bogie overseas to be repaired, for example, so we see the repair and maintenance side of rail as big for us, especially into the future,” he said. “That’s a huge industry that’s getting bigger.

“Any fastener that’s in our range can be used in some part of rail infrastructure or rollingstock. From things like bogies, all the way to fixed infrastructure around the railway itself. In one case, we supplied fasteners for sound walls during the construction of new elevated rail lines and stations in Melbourne. And our engineering department is trained to go in and look at the required application and specify thebest fastening solution in terms of both performance and cost effectiveness.”


Visit Infastech at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 278.

Infastech Engineered Fastening’s range of fastening solutions

Click to enlarge.

AusRAIL: Surge protection in the era of digitisation

Electrical engineering manufacturer, Phoenix Contact says it’s developed the world’s first intelligent system for surge protection, integrating the essential solution into the Internet of Things.


Surge protection is critical to the smooth running of trains, because railway technology depends on highly sensitive electric and electronic systems. These systems require a high degree of availability in order to avoid delaying critical operational processes, and inducing high costs associated with downtimes and maintenance.

Disruptions to the functioning of this technology, however, can be easily caused by a myriad of factors, such as weather events – especially lightning strikes, aging systems, or damage to conductors, interlocking components, modules or computer systems.

With the ongoing digitisation of the rail industry becoming more and more comprehensive, applying to every component and system across the sector, there is now an intelligent system for surge protection.

Phoenix Contact, which provides Surge Protection Devices (SPDs), has this year released a surge protection monitoring solution called “ImpulseCheck” which enables the continuous monitoring of the surge protection system’s
electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and the installed SPDs, and facilitates preventative maintenance in order to comprehensively reduce overall maintenance costs and increase the reliability of services.

Phoenix Contact’s national marketing manager in Australia, John Ortika, spoke to Rail Express about the world first.

“Products that we previously would have just installed and operated, we now want more information and more detailed information on them continuously. Are they still functioning at maximum capacity? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Is there potentially a failure down the track that we can cater for and remove before it actually happens?”

ImpulseCheck monitors every single arrestor, detecting electromagnetic interference and surge currents on each active conductor, allocates a time stamp to the event, and then transfers the data to a cloud interface called “ProfiCloud”.

In ProfiCloud, the state of health for each mode of protection is analysed based on the recorded events.

“It’s the first solution on the market that dynamically and continuously monitors for surges and actually measures their frequency so that you’ve got an exact idea of how large the surge was and how often they’ve occurred, because it’s time-stamped,” says Ortika.

Once data from the monitoring system is input into the cloud system, Phoenix Contact conducts predictive analytics to offer remote diagnosis, identifying the error cause and offering prognosis of the potential disruption to the rail operator so they can conduct predictive maintenance on their systems with a precise picture. This enables the maximisation of system availability, avoiding breakdowns and reducing maintenance efforts.

“We can tell them, for example, based on the number of surge events that have occurred in your system, the surge protection components are starting to wear out and should be replaced prior to them failing, therefore allowing predictive maintenance and ensuring maximum system availability. It’s real time information and it’s accessible via a cloud interface, so its 24/7 basically,” Ortika says.

“Where previously, all of this involved guesswork, oh there was a lightning storm the other week and that might have damaged it, now we’ll have real time-stamped data to be able to really work out what has caused the issues that brought the system down or caused the component to fail.”

External sensors allow the system to be easily installed or retrofitted in both new and existing systems. Ortika says the implementation process is incredibly simple.

“In a few easy steps, you can affix the sensors to the connecting cables of the power supply or an SPD that is actively monitored. That’s easily retrofitted to the cable, so you don’t really have to stop the system in any way, shape, or form.”

But ImpulseCheck is not the only rail related solution Phoenix Contact offers, according to Ortika.

“Another one that’s been of interest to the rail industry, amongst others, are our power supplies and UPS systems, and again it’s about providing more information to the operator, continuously and in real time, about the availability and status of the power supply and the battery back-up system, knowing continuously that the battery is fully charged or what discharge level it’s at so that appropriate actions can then take place. Or, also knowing whether the battery lifetime is close to expiring, whether its nine years left or two months, so that the appropriate action by the operator can then be decided upon, and the operator is able to schedule maintenance rather than reacting when the battery is no longer functional.”

The significance of the data that ImpulseCheck gathers goes beyond preventative maintenance. With detailed data mining, it can provide the trends which operators will be able to react to and ensure the smooth operation of the railways.

“The analytics and what you do with the data that makes that data relevant and useable in a real application, that’s going to develop further over time.”

With its in-house machine building experience, Phoenix Contact knows the requirements of digitalisation and integrated data flow, from the engineering through the product life cycle. The future, Ortika believes, will see even further gains in the digitisation of all components of rail operation.

“We’ll see more and more electrical and electronic components being further and more deeply integrated into the operational system so that, right down to what were considered simple components in the past, we have the ability to see what affect they have on the overall lifetime and availability of the system.”


Visit Phoenix Contact at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 247.

AusRAIL: Time-saving tech boosts OHW maintenance efficiency

Australian-owned electro-technology company Australian Rail Technology has developed a significantly more efficient way to isolate overhead traction supply.


Time delays on rail networks have become a major issue for politicians and a source of ongoing frustration for commuters. One contributing factor is the technical challenge of isolating a set of complex systems that make up a rail network.

The problem: complexity, safety, time Most in the industry know that a modern electrifi ed railway possesses a complex electrical distribution network consisting of multiple substations, protection and isolation devices, overhead wiring (OHW) and sometimes problematic sections and zones when it comes time to isolate them.

The complexity of such systems and high-consequence nature of electrical work can make the maintenance and repair of equipment a time-consuming task. It is particularly problematic when an unplanned event occurs, impacting revenue service, and when overhead lines may be dragged down and potentially into contact with rollingstocks, other rail assets, or people.

“Currently the procedures for isolation and earthing of the OHW requires a switching crew to be deployed to the section isolators to isolate the section from the substation,” Australian Rail Technology (ART) national sales manager Darren Will tells Rail Express. “The work crews must then add additional rail connections from the OHW to the rail to short-out the section in the event of a fault. Only after both of these operations have been completed can a work permit be issued.”

This process can take several hours, and once work is complete must then be performed in reverse in order to re-energise the OHW.

In an era when operators are trying to send their network uptime up, and maintenance budgets down, crews are already contending with shorter maintenance windows and less staff to perform the works, and a lower tolerance for mistakes.

“Current procedures involve manually switching the isolator(s) and grounding or shorting the overhead to rail. Safety lockouts, including interlocking keys, prevent the inadvertent re-energising of the system. This method relies on the switch operator travelling to the switch location to isolate the supply, visually checking the isolator has successfully moved into the correct position and that the manual gate is locked in the correct position.”

Not only are both procedures timeconsuming, but physically travelling to those isolation locations can be problematic and in some instances dangerous for maintenance staff. “Then there’s tunnels…” Will adds warily.

ART’s Remote Isolation System

Taking a pragmatic approach to developing a better solution for this complex issue, ART has invested time and resources in developing a motorised isolator system which is modular, compact and readily fitted to existing infrastructure. It removes the need to replace existing isolators and earthing switches, while providing core functionality and elements to support safety rating of the entire system.

A modular solution such as the ART Remote Isolation (RI) solution means flexibility in meeting different requirements as well as allowing component approvals to be reused between different applications. The ART RI system contains a safety PLC allowing for fl exibility of integration, and future proofi ng for unique system installations.

“The system not only provides a much faster time to isolation – improving operational effi ciency – but assures a much higher level of safety by removing human error that currently exists with visual inspection requirements.”

The remote isolation ability can be staged through an initial implementation of remote switching which is then fully compatible with future remote isolation functionality enablement.

“For operators, maintainers, constructors and asset owners, ART is ready to supply your remote isolation needs,” Will concludes. “With a bolt-on ready product and engineering expertise to achieve integration with appropriate SIL ratings, save yourself the time of development and utilise and Australian-developed, adaptable, configurable and safe system for your AC and DC traction supplies.”


Visit ART at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 160.


AusRAIL: Rollingstock communications systems in the new digital era

How Lantech Communications Global’s sub-communication systems offerings are resolving long held challenges for the rail industry.


Devices in rail environments must operate in harsh conditions, and survive severe air pollution, vibration, shock, input voltage ripple and surge.

At the same time, operators are increasingly demanding more sustainable and costefficient solutions to connect all rollingstock sub-communications systems. These include train control and monitoring systems, digital displays and other passenger information systems, CCTV cameras, PA systems, and the passenger Wi-Fi systems that are increasingly becoming a necessity.

Lantech Communications Australia, a joint venture partner of Lantech Global based in Taiwan, provides the networking (switch and router) infrastructure for these subcommunications systems. Lantech’s EN50155 switches solutions are adopted on rollingstock across the world, including the Sydney and Melbourne Metros, as well as the metro in Barcelona, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Helsinki, German operator Deutsche Bahn’s networks and France SNCF rolling stock.

While current conventional train communication networks (TCN) are facing several challenges to improving services, Lantech Communications sales VP, Amanda Lee, tells Rail Express that Lantech is overcoming these.

For example, one of the reasons Lantech’s solution for the Melbourne Metro was chosen over its competitors, according to Lee, is because of Lantech’s superior high frequency power conversion circuits that allow for DC-DC conversion into regulated 54VDC voltages inside the switches themselves for Power over Ethernet (PoE) operation.

“The systems integrators wanted to use our switches, as all these devices are IP based and digitalised, they wanted the switches not only to be able to provide the data communications, but to also have the PoE functionality, which eliminates the need to have additional power for each device, which is more convenient” Lee said.

“Not only do our switches provide the PoE functionality, but Lantech is capable of providing wide range DC-DC conversion technology inside the switches, so we’re able to handle the direct input power. For example, for 24 volts or 110 volts or 72 volts, the switch can boost or step down within the switch system to feed the power over the ethernet and comply with the PoE 802.3at standard.

“Because we can handle the DC-DC conversion and can make it in smaller housing and with much better support, our customers choose us over our competitors. In a train if you need DC-DC conversion which has an IP-54 house rating, which is very costly. We are able to provide it, and this is why our customers choose Lantech.”

Part of the reason for the advanced capabilities of their offerings, aside from inhouse expertise, is that Lantech is extremely flexible said Lee.

“Competitors who may build their protocols based on third party solutions have trouble adapting to project requirements in short time. Whether it’s in Australia or Europe, Asia, requirements for networking infrastructure differ from project to project. Lantech is able to adapt and customise those features to requirements. This is because our switches are fuelled by the Linux platforms.”

Since Lantech began supplying to the rail industry, seven years ago, Lee says they have noticed the industry’s requirements for more ruggedised, more sustainable offerings in hardware as well as software, get tougher.

“Some projects require an inrush current limit to deal with sparks which may harm the switch. That kind of limit can be dealt with a circuit breaker, however, the long-term inrush current could also shorten the switch lifespan.

“Also, because PoE is transmitted by a copper wire, and when you transmit power with copper a surge or EFT can easily be conducted to the copper wire and cause damage to the switch and router system, you need to have some kind of isolation to prevent from happening. We’ve designed all our offerings to be more complicated so that they’re able to effectively fix all the problems encountered with rolling stock network infrastructure.”

Another scope Lantech has developed within the rail train application is an IEEE 61375-2-5 & -3-4 protocol switch able to be used in train control monitoring systems. Other challenges Lee says Lantech is overcoming are those presented by the impending uptake of 5G networks which will need to be capable of 10G – referring to internet speeds of 10 gigabits per second.

Vendors looking to develop the 10G uplink switches are faced with different challenges.

“We are a leader in this kind of solution because we have the most selection in this range. There are very few competitors who offer these 10G uplink switches for on board trains, because you have to put the DC-DC conversion inside the switches and you need to resolve the problem of heat dissipation, Because 10G is so fast, the heat generated is a lot higher, so its very easy to overheat.”

Lee says that Lantech is in a leading position in providing the technology to enable these speeds right now and are receiving enquiries to provide solutions for European projects.

“They want to have sustainable communication systems, future-proofed for the next 20 years down the line, this is that they’re looking for right now. With 5G coming, a lot of devices will need higher bandwidth, so we’re in a leading position with regards to providing these solutions right now,” she said.

The company is undergoing an exciting period, aside from being in a leading position with its offerings, Lantech will soon be launching a new series of routers which integrate a lot of the functionality that covers PoE, LTE, Wi-Fi, VPN, managing switches functions, and mobus gateway.

“We come from a background of switches, so that’s where we have some of the most interesting product ranges for new solutions,” Lee said.

Within these router solutions, Lantech is always adding more and more protocols. One of the latest developments they are adding are Wi-Fi mesh for train applications, allowing faster speeds, smoother reliability and greater wireless coverage.


Visit Lantech at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 288.

AusRAIL: Rail adapting to ‘unprecedented boom’

In this exclusive Q&A, John Holland’s executive general manager for rail, Steve Butcher, tells Rail Express about the shifting rail landscape, the benefits of an integrated offering, and the challenges facing the sector.


Rail Express (REX): How is the landscape shifting for operations and maintenance contractors in the rail sector?

Steve Butcher (SB): There is an unprecedented increase in the investment governments are making into mass transit systems across Australia. As a result, Australian rail operators are adapting to a level of demand that has been lacking for a generation.

The demand has been greatest for mass transit systems in urban centres, where population density has driven an increase in funding for rail projects along the east coast.

The other shift we are seeing is a renewed focus on the customer, which is something we thrive on.

People-centred transport systems are now what governments expect, and our performance is tied to how well we design and manage the customer experience. Governments are also increasingly introducing KPIs for operators, which has driven better customer outcomes.

The importance of integrating the customer experience across modes and ensuring comfort, safety and reliability is now part of rail planning from the design stage.

Public transport increasingly becoming a data business has also created a range of new opportunities for operators, such as linking to on-demand services, and sharing real-time information with customers about reliability and patronage on services.


REX: What are the challenges faced by John Holland and others in this space, and how is John Holland adjusting to these challenges?

SB: This is a really exciting time for the Australian rail industry – it is a time of great transformation, both in terms of massive physical infrastructure and technological developments to reduce congestion and improve the customer experience.

We are very lucky to be in the thick of some of the most significant rail projects in Australia’s history, but
it is important we keep pace with the sheer volume of work that is out there.

Our rail business now makes up 47 per cent of John Holland’s total revenue, and with more than $100 billion worth of projects in the Australasian rail pipeline, we expect the demand on our people to continue to grow.

Adjusting to the increase in work has meant a very consistent recruitment strategy, where we have seen our rail employee numbers increase by 31.6 per cent since December last year.

Separately, we are working hard to improve work-life balance for people across all John Holland projects. This includes a pilot of flexible working arrangements across different projects.

During a boom, we know that we are in fierce competition for the best people – so we need to ensure we are the best place to work, both to attract new hires and to retain our expert rail people.

Other challenges in rail relate to bringing existing infrastructure up to modern standards. This covers everything from ensuring stations and platforms are accessible, to upgrading track to improve speed and reliability – which forms the bulk of the work we perform on the Country Regional Network in NSW.

Making rail competitive with road travel means maximising the performance of existing networks, both for passengers and freight operators.

To keep pace with technological advancements in the operations and maintenance space, we are seeking to draw on our in-house capacity and expand the pool of companies we joint venture with.

John Holland has a specialised internal technology, engineering and knowledge business which we can draw upon to drive innovation for our customers.


The bulk of John Holland’s work on the Country Regional Network involves upgrading track to improve speed and reliability.


REX: John Holland had an integrated involvement throughout the design and delivery of Sydney Metro Northwest. What are the benefits of that to the contractor, and what are the benefits to the customer?

SB: The clearest benefit of an integrated offering is that you take a whole of life view of what you are delivering, which means better customer outcomes and better value for money. In projects like Sydney Metro and Canberra Metro, where we have been involved in design, construction, through to operations and maintenance we were able to ensure the project was delivered on time.

With major projects there are daily risks that need to be managed. The benefit of having a consistent partner through all phases of a project means that you have an ability to accelerate or adjust the program to accommodate any changes you need to make. It also means that the design and construction is delivered with decisions being made that are in the best interests of the asset long term, and with consideration being given to the long-term maintenance needs of the project.


REX: Tunnelling has been identified as a difficult element to properly cost ahead of time in major infrastructure projects. What are some lessons learned from recent tunnelling projects that John Holland has been involved in, and what can be done to minimise risk?

SB: All major construction projects present different challenges, and it is our job to manage them. We should never underestimate this, however, on the Sydney Metro Northwest tunnels – the largest railway tunnels ever built in Australia – we were able to deliver them two months ahead of schedule.

We are currently delivering the Sydney Metro City and Southwest tunnels under Sydney Harbour which are more than 70 per cent complete.


REX: With a lot of major rail projects planned, in procurement, or under construction around Australia, how does a diversified, major contractor like John Holland balance its ambitions and avoid getting stretched too thin?

SB: The volume of work in the Australian rail industry shows no signs of slowing down, with mega projects like the Sydney Metro West and Greater West on the horizon. In other industry booms, you can generally see a tapering off, but there is no end in sight to Australia’s current infrastructure boom.

Every prospect is carefully assessed against our current and future pipeline, to make sure we have the people and expertise to deliver the best results for our customers. We also make sure that we match the growth in our projects to the growth of our people.

Since December, our rail team has grown steadily, to keep up with the number of projects we are bidding and delivering on.


REX: The rail sector has repeatedly called for a more clear and adhered-to pipeline for major projects, coordinated between state and federal governments. Do you think this is a realistic goal? How would it help a company like John Holland serve the industry?

SB: A consistent major project pipeline is crucial for the long-term viability of major infrastructure companies.

We are in an unprecedented boom at the moment, with tens of billions being spent on new rail infrastructure all along the east coast of Australia. As a business, we have had to be smart about what we bid for, and just as importantly, what we don’t bid on.

The biggest benefit of a long-term major project pipeline is that it allows companies like John Holland to better plan careers for our people. Not having a clear timeline means that people might move cities to work on committed projects, without knowing that there is a major opportunity in their hometown right around the corner.

The biggest benefit of this to our customers is consistency in the people and expertise delivering major projects.


Visit John Holland at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 39.

AusRAIL: Guiding rail’s digital transformation

Siemens Mobility’s Chris Whiteside talks about the potential savings new digital methods can provide a rail project from the design phase right through to operation.


Siemens Mobility has the goal to help customers achieve what seems impossible: zero unscheduled railway outages. The flagship tool it has developed to provide the underlying processes to support this goal is Railigent.

Siemens says Railigent is designed to make the best use of data to guide rail operators towards 100 per cent availability. Powered by the company’s open Internet of Things (IoT) operating system, MindSphere, Railigent applies artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytics to large volumes of rail data collected by IoT devices in the field.

Rather than just showing individual pieces of technology, Siemens Mobility is connecting all of the technology on display at its AusRAIL stand through Railigent, using cloud computing to provide real-time analysis.

Siemens’ head of digital services in the region, Chris Whiteside, tells Rail Express the exhibition and conference will be an opportunity for him and his team at the company’s Australian MindSphere Analytics Centre to demonstrate the benefits of rail digitalisation and the kind of analytics that can be done to provide an ultra-efficient rail operation.

“I’m really keen to understand where the industry wants to go with analytics, and working how we can make things more efficient and sustainable,” he says. “We’re very focused at the moment on infrastructure build, and there’s very little focus on efficiency.”

To that end, as part of AusRAIL’s IRSE technical conference stream, Whiteside will discuss how Building Information Modelling (BIM) and System Information Modelling (SIM) can enhance metro rail operations, and reduce risk, and both capital and operational expenditure.

“The model approach helps from the tendering and concept phase all the way through to the maintenance phase. It has benefits all the way through the life cycle. It’s the concept of taking the 2D drawings relied upon by the signalling and technology providers for these projects, and putting that information into a simulated model, and dealing with it from that perspective. Rather than a room full of drawings and lengthy manual/paper-based approval processes, you have a single digital model with all the necessary information, which can be referenced throughout the project,” Whiteside says.

“We know there is a lot of infrastructure build going on at the moment, and we know skilled resources are like gold – there’s a huge demand and a scarce supply – and that’s driving the costs of projects up. So we’re looking at digital methods traditionally used in the building space or in mining, oil and gas, to see if they can be applicable in the rail space.

“It can be quite a provocative subject, because there are the traditionalists who believe drawings are the only way to go. But the savings in time, effort, cost, and simply the reductions to wasted time and re-working, are significant.”

Whiteside and his team will deliver a pair of presentations on day one of AusRAIL – one at morning tea and one at lunch, which will be livestreamed over Facebook.

“We’ll have some of our data scientists from our analytics centre on hand,” Whiteside says. “They’ll be able to talk about the projects we’ve worked on so far, for example where we worked with Auckland Transport to reduce the amount of time it takes to look for faults on ETCS equipment, through the power of Railigent, and the data analytics that’s been done to create algorithms locally.”

Elsewhere, Siemens Mobility’s head of business development and strategy Charles Page will be chairing a session in the Rail Suppliers conference stream, and head of product innovation Stephen Baker will take part in the closing industry panel during the AusRAIL conference.


Visit Siemens at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 217.

AusRAIL: New Australian tech on show

Australian-owned rail equipment manufacturer, Melvelle Equipment is debuting two new technologies alongside its well-established range of portable rail maintenance and construction equipment solutions at AusRAIL PLUS.


A second-generation, family-owned business based in Newcastle, Melvelle Equipment leverages a local team of engineers to help solve problems for rail owners and maintenance businesses. In one example, last year it delivered its locally-designed and manufactured lightweight, rapid-deployment rail trolleys to the Melbourne Metro network, after discussions found there was a need among some rail operators for such a solution.

The company’s CEO, Andrew Melvelle, tells Rail Express Melvelle has had to book a larger stand at this year’s AusRAIL PLUS than it did two years ago in Brisbane, simply due to the wide range of successful products it has to display.

Along with its existing range, the company is debuting an electric battery pack to power its Trackpack solution, and its new Australian-designed rail tensor.

The battery pack to power Melvelle’s Trackpack is designed to serve as an alternative to the internal combustion, petrol and diesel engines. Melvelle’s Trackpack is a complete hydraulic power unit with boom arm and rail trolley, designed to allow the use of multiple hydraulic work heads without the need for numerous power supplies. The design, which uses adjustable counterbalance positioning, means weight on operator handles never exceeds five kilograms.

Melvelle says the electric battery solution was designed, like so many of the company’s products, to respond to a consumer need. “Our customers are seeing the benefits of going green with their power systems, and this is our offering in that space,” he said.

One customer Melvelle says has been particularly keen for a battery-powered solution is New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “Currently, they have our Trackpack system, but in the petrol version – or ‘gas’ as they call it,” he said. “They want to use more of our equipment in the underground, so they would prefer the battery power pack in that application.”

For now, the electric battery solution is suitable for several key workheads in the Trackpack range, but this will soon be expanded to the full range.

The second new product Melvelle is showing off at AusRAIL PLUS is its Australian-designed rail tensor, a tool used during both greenfield track construction, as well as track replacement and maintenance.

Melvelle says the tensor is designed with safety and ease-of-use at the forefront of design.

“The only components over 20 kilograms will be the cylinders,” he said. “And we’re applying some innovative ideas to alleviate some of the more common OH&S issues around this work.

“Currently, when a crew loads the tensor onto the rail, they build the tensor up upside down, balanced on the head of the rail, and then they flip it over. When they flip the tensor over, with the jaw arms and everything in it, it’s quite heavy and can be hard to control. We’ve got an innovative method of building the tension and
rotating it into position.”

Melvelle’s stand also features products from companies for whom Melvelle is an exclusive distributor in the region, including Rail Products UK, Knox Kershaw, Permaquip, ABTUS, ROV Group and Rotabroach.


Visit Melvelle at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 191.

AusRAIL: The new era of rail depots

Andrew Engineering’s Chris Parish tells Rail Express how the trend towards digital integration has impacted the fit out of rail depots.


Founded in 1951 as a small tooling company, Andrew Engineering has come to offer the design, manufacture and supply of special purpose machinery for a wide range of industries. In the late 1990s, the company shifted from being 85 per cent dedicated to supplying the automotive industry and became a major supplier to the rail industry.

“Around 2007, 2008 we had our first major rail project which was the bogie exchange system at the Auburn maintenance centre,” engineering director Chris Parish tells Rail Express.

“We completely regeared the business away from what was effectively a special purpose equipment supplier to the automotive industry to being a major supplier to the rail industry, as far as rolling stock maintenance equipment solutions go. So, in the last 10 years we’ve seen a 100 per cent, complete U-turn in the way we do business.”

Andrew Engineering was contracted to design, build and install a solution to remove and replace all 16 bogies of an eight-car Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) at the Downer Rail operated train depot for the maintenance of Millennium and Waratah trains.

Andrew Engineering was asked to replace the 16 bogies without the EMU moving and within a 12-hour cycle.

In response, the company designed, built, delivered and installed a first of its kind bogie exchange system (BES) consisting of 6 self-propelled bogie drop machines, 72 automated removable rails, 6 pairs of 12T vehicle jacks, 6 pairs of bogie jacks, 36 bogie drop stations and 3 bogie turntables. The new BES exceeded the facility’s cycle time requirements.

The company has, however, created railway products for decades, upgrading machines and equipment, in-house manufacture and OEM supply and delivering breakdown and on-call support, and so they have significant experience in the sector and are well acquainted with the Australian Standards of railway production.

As an engineering firm, they have also developed prototype parts, such as automated assembly systems, etc. “We can develop bespoke technology or provide off-the-shelf solutions,” Parish said.

What’s different about the business now, according to Parish, is that they are a one stop shop. “We provide a turnkey solution from depot fit-out through to life support, and we offer a full suite of products in order to maintain the vehicles effectively. We’re effectively a one stop shop to cover that particular area, whether it be in passenger rail or the freight area, we can efficiently provide a full solution and hand over the reins to the customer and say there you go – there’s your working facility.

“We can go right from the design and engineering through to manufacture or procurement, depending on whether or not we’re providing a third-party product such as a wheel lathes, or our own product such as a BES, turntables, lift platforms, these sorts of products.

“Along with the procurement comes the project management, the commercial management, the delivery, installation, conditioning and the full sign off, then at the end of it all the through life support. So, you have an organisation that can effectively take a project from the ideas phase through to full completion and through life support on the other side.”

In the passenger rail sector, Andrew Engineering has worked on a number of projects, one such being on the New Generation Rolling Stock maintenance facility for Bombardier Transportation at Wulkuraka, Queensland. In partnership with Laing O’Rourke, Andrew Engineering worked onsite to deliver, install and commission depot management systems and specialist rolling stock maintenance equipment and machinery for the NGRS Maintenance Workshop.

The purpose-built Wulkuraka facility was designed to maintain the 75 new trains purchased under the Queensland Government’s wider NGRS project for 30 years.

Within the freight sector, Andrew Engineering has worked on key projects such as the FMG Thomas Rail Yard in Port Hedland, Western Australia. In partnership with Niles-Simmons-Hegenschedit Group, Andrew Engineering delivered a full turnkey project of the fully automated ore car and wheel and axle repair shop.

The greenfield project was delivered from concept to fully operational within 22 months. Andrew Engineering worked onsite to deliver, install and manage all of the wheel shop machinery and remain the primary service and maintenance provider for this facility.

According to Parish, “Andrew Engineering has a highly skilled team of engineers and technicians to provide comprehensive support for rail depot equipment with custom designed rail wheels, turntables and automated handling systems also in our repertoire.”

This is what sets Andrew Engineering apart from its competitors, that they are a one stop shop in the full sense.

“We have a strong engineering focus, so we’re not just a reseller or an agent, we have a full understanding of the engineering aspects of the products and projects that we do, and we have the full project management and commercial management capability, so it doesn’t require third party to engage in that process, and we have in house capability on the technical side. We have a large number of tradespeople that work alongside with engineers and project managers all within the same organisation.

“We have a 3500 sqm facility where we can actually provide local solutions even with imported products, so for instance at the moment, in the construction industry we’re manufacturing building maintenance units at the moment for an overseas company who are actually behind in one of their projects and they’ve asked us to do a major fabrication here in our facility.”

Since entering the rail space, Andrew Engineering says it has seen the entire industry change and become much leaner.

“The drive for asset utilisation has been a big shift. Whereas before they would simply just buy a huge amount of stock of spares, and hold them as contingency spares, today they are a lot leaner. The emphasis now is on minimising capital investment and and maximising the output from assets. So the expectation of high quality performance of maintenance equipment is a lot higher these days.

“Another big thing for us is the rise in the desire for electronic depot protection systems, which we offer in partnership with Zonegreen, which takes people away from the conventional, mechanical locks and padlocks and more into the digital sphere. On a safety side, that’s been a big aspect.”

Having experienced and adapted to these changes in the industry, Andrew Engineering is confident in tackling the integration of equipment into the digitisation of asset management.

“Automatic tagging or RFID tagging, communication with asset information systems, we’re advancing into the idea of having all of the equipment digitally connected with real time information regarding performance and how that effects maintability and availability of assets, whether by allowing remote access, remote diagnostics, and automatic data collection and transfer.”

The Australian firm says it’s looking forward to seeing what the future will bring to the space.


Visit Andrew Engineering at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 82.